Saying “No” with Grace

This animated gif is by Mark Butchko.

Yesterday, I said “no” to someone, and this is what they wrote back to me: “Thanks for the quick, productive, and honest conversation.”


Now let me give you the backstory: A large tech company got in touch with me via email more or less saying, “Hey, we’re doing this product push, and it looks like you are pretty tapped into our audience. Let’s talk.”

And I thought, “Well, maybe they’re interested in sponsoring my podcast.” (As much as I wish money were no object, this is the real world and I need sponsor support to be able to continue making the podcast.) So we scheduled a call.

Once we hopped on the phone, it rapidly became clear that they were not interested in sponsorship. Instead, they were interested in me as an “influencer,” someone who might demo their product and tell people about it. And that’s fine.

Unfortunately, I could not be less interested in demo-ing new tech gadgets. Some people love to have the latest technologies, but I couldn’t care less. I still have an iPhone SE because I seem to be unable to upgrade my hand size, and I like to be able to hold my phone and/or put it in my tiny person pockets.

This is what I — very politely — told the woman I was speaking with. That I took the call because I was interested in sponsorships as I grow my podcast, but that I understood her objective was different. And that I wouldn’t make a good guinea pig because I really don’t care about tech gear. I also offered to brainstorm about people I knew who might be a better fit for their program.

The woman was a little surprised by my candor at first, but she wasn’t offended. We were both sort of gobsmacked, like, “Wow, what a no-bullshit conversation.”

And that’s the benefit of saying “no.” No one has to deal with any bullshit. Yes, I’m not going to waste my time. But I’m also not going to waste your time by leading you to think I want to participate in something I really have no heart for.

That’s the benefit of saying “no.” No one has to deal with any bullshit.

These types of misalignments happen constantly. I can’t tell you how many times someone has reached out to me, via email, to open a conversation, and I thought our objectives were aligned. But then I quickly discovered they were not. No doubt this has happened to you as well.

The thing is: That’s fine. But you don’t have to change what you want just because someone else wants something different. All you have to do is clarify — with grace and firmness — that your goals are different. And they’ll get it.

As long as you are tactful, I have found that 95% people are extremely receptive to a clear “no.” Especially if you tell them why.

As in:

Nice to hear from you. At the moment, I’m focusing 100% of my energy on making [insert project name] happen, so I’ll have to pass on this opportunity. Thank you for thinking of me.

or

I appreciate your interest. Unfortunately, I don’t think my expertise applies to this subject so I won’t add value to your article about [insert topic]. I’m going to pass on this opportunity, but best of luck with the piece.

or

Thanks for reaching out. I love meeting new people who are aligned with what I’m trying to accomplish. Could you clarify what you were hoping to discuss on the phone call/coffee meeting you proposed so we can see if it’s a good fit?

This last is obviously for when you might need to decline an offer, but aren’t sure yet. Often, the other person will say “no” for you by never responding. Or, they’ll provide you with more info, and you can accurately assess if the opportunity is aligned with your goals, or not.

The upside of everyone being busy — if there is one — is that we’re all in the same boat. No one wants to waste their valuable time.

When you decline misaligned opportunities with grace and firmness, you do everyone a favor.

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If saying no is something you really struggle with, you can find more advice for changing your perspective — and handy email scripts — in my book Unsubscribe.

Get more tips on how to activate your creativity and do the work that matters:

Hi, I'm Jocelyn. I help people find more creativity and meaning in their daily work.


I host the Hurry Slowly podcast — a new show about how you can be more productive, creative, and resilient by slowing down — write books that will help you reclaim your time, and give uncommonly useful talks.

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